Cleanflix Documentary – Sanitizing Art or Entrepreneurship?

I wrote about the trend of film editing for Family Values quite a long time ago. I even did a parody of it in my Cynic comic strip by having the main character start a video shop in protest that carried only offensive films. Now that we have a documentary for everything we have one on this subject called Cleanflix and the culprits are the Mormons. View the trailer and then read on.

You might think this would be a straightforward issue for me as an artist who creates content, but I’m actually torn in two different directions. I believe that art is not sacred and it can be taken by another artist and made into a new statement or even exploited for profit. The most recent example from the comic strip world is Dan Walsh’s Garfield Minus Garfield where he removed Garfield from every comic strip produced by Jim Davis (and if you think Jim Davis drew all those strips, think again–he has a crew). Jim Davis did not sue Dan Walsh but allowed him to publish and sell his collection of modified strips which is almost unheard of. Why did Dan Walsh conceive of such an idea. According to his site, “…in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle.” In other words he took existing art and made it mean something else.

The same should be true of Disney characters and other corporate characters who–if you do a little reading you might be shocked to know that they belong in the public domain. But of course favors were called in and the lawyers prevailed and thus corporations got to hold onto their money makers. This treatment of characters that dominate our pop culture is actually bad for art as a whole. Imagine if a corporation owned the works of Shakespeare and you had to pay them everytime you did a play or use the characters in your own retelling of Hamlet?

So when a handful of film editors take existing “inappropriate films” and make them mean what they want to? Again, I’m torn. Maybe it’s an issue of  “too soon for modification” as these are new releases as well as popular releases from the last 3 decades. Or is it an issue of that we simply don’t agree with the editor’s viewpoint? We do, after all, accept TV edits all the time that remove unacceptable content and those values are constantly changing according to political views or public toleration of certain swear words.

I am looking forward to the observations of the documentary as it is not available on Netflix yet (I saved it when it does, it is listed) because I am interested in both sides. Hopefully it is not too biased towards what is called “The Clean Movement.”  This appears to be a Mormon produced documentary? Or at least the people behind it are Mormons according to the official site where in the About section it says, “In Cleanflix, directors Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi chronicle the rise and fall of the clean movement. Having grown up in the Mormon community, the duo gained close access to the main players that outsiders might never have achieved. The controversy over cleaning films raises further questions: Who gets to set cultural standards? Does what we watch affect how we behave?”

Artists certainly have a right to be upset, but they should understand that this may be their only inroad to the Mormon community and human curiosity is a powerful thing. If you showed me a censored version of a popular film and I knew from rumors or just reading on the web that the actress had a nude scene in it–guess what I’m going to do? Either go on the web to find the scene or order the film from Amazon and watch it in the privacy of my own home. How many Mormons, I wonder, have private collections of R-rated films that are not approved by the church?

Also remember that turnabout is fair play. If you’re going to irk the wrath of some of the most creative and powerful players in Hollywood, we may see them pull a Martin Scorseses and put out artistic visions of Mormon blasphemy or even fund Mormon documentaries exposing church fraud throughout history. We’ve already gotten a taste that such drama can earn viewership and money with Big Love.

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